By Dee Pederson
Imagine the perspective you have at 35,000 feet — the kind of view many of us had as we set out for Orlando, Fla.
From this perspective, you can see more clearly the abrupt changes in the terrain, landscapes that have been shaped by the paths of water, and highways that link us together across God’s good creation.
When the task force first met for its work on the study, “Living into the Future Together (LIFT): Renewing the Ecology of the ELCA,” we recognized that much of our work would need to be done at the 35,000-foot level.
We needed to see the breadth of our culture’s change, the depth of the ELCA’s relationships and the expanse of God’s love in Jesus for the sake of the world.
What LIFT isn’t
First, let me say that the LIFT study is not a strategic planning report.
It is not a magical answer to declining mainline denomination participation statistics.
It is not a prescription for church re-structuring.
It does not provide a cookie-cutter, one size fits all approach to ministry.
It is not a prescription handed down from a committee aloof and disconnected from life in a regular ELCA congregation.
The purpose of the LIFT study
There are at least three goals of the LIFT study.
1. To recognize the changes we’ve experienced since the ELCA was formed over 20 years ago.
Some of these changes have occurred internally. Many have taken place externally, impacting life demographically, socially, culturally, technologically, relationally and economically.
The task force wanted to begin a grassroots conversation to discover how these changes have impacted our church relationships — within and among congregations, synods, the churchwide organization, service organizations and agencies, campus and outdoor ministries, schools, colleges and seminaries, and ecumenical and global partners.
I am so grateful for the thousands of people who joined this conversation and provided their perspectives through 2010 synod assemblies, surveys, online comments and interviews.
The wealth of information in the research summaries and reports of the task force will provide insights about the changes going on in ministry settings, neighborhoods, communities and regions throughout the ELCA.
2. To evaluate the organization, governance and interrelationships in our church in the light of those changes.
“Ecology” has to do with the interrelationships between living things; biblically, its root word has to do with the word, “household of faith.”
Responses in the LIFT research helped us see where our relationships across our households of faith are strong and dynamic and where we need to strengthen our connections for the sake of God’s mission.
The LIFT recommendations recognize the vital and essential way that local congregations grow everyday evangelists. The recommendations can make a difference for every congregation as we recognize how much we need each other, strengthen our interdependence and partnerships, and create new connections and networks, both incarnate and digital.
The triune God created us for community. We get to experience that community abundantly in our life together, and we are freed in Christ to live out that community walking together with the neighbors beside us.
3. To prepare a report and recommendations that will position this church for the future and explore new possibilities for participating in God’s mission.
We can view the rapid change happening in our world as a threat, and we might be tempted to circle the wagons, turn in upon ourselves in fear and simply long for the good old days, rather than face the future.
Or we can see this as a time in which the Holy Spirit is graciously lifting our eyes from self-preoccupation and opening up the future before us.
The LIFT report and the ELCA Church Council’s Implementing Resolutions call congregations to take seriously the unique mission field in which God has placed us and to live into the future together in the promises of God in Jesus Christ who is the same, yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).
These promises are timeless and continue to lift us up (pun intended):
- God’s vision for the church and for our “glocal” communities;
- the power of the word and sacraments to form faith and foster life together;
- the presence of the living Jesus who sends us to make disciples who are “freed in Christ to serve”; and
- God’s continuing promise, “Behold! I am doing a new thing
I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert” (Isaiah 43:19), and “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 12:5).
The gifts God has given to this church and the needs of God’s world are so great! The words of Timothy Wengert ring true, as stated in Appendix H of the report: “God has given the ELCA the present moment as an opportunity, unparalleled in our history, to confess the center of our faith to the world.”
The LIFT report and recommendations are simply the beginning of a process that can be planted throughout the ELCA. It is my hope that members, congregations and partners will prayerfully reflect on the two questions at the heart of the LIFT report, questions that provide a beginning for prayerful conversation and local discernment:
- What is God calling this church to be and do in the future?
- What changes are in order to help us respond most faithfully?
Dee Pederson is lead pastor at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Cloud, Minn. Dee is also the chair of the Living Into the Future Together task force.